Chuck Ragan on The Revival Tour: "This Is the Original Way Families and Communities Used to Share Music Together"
Chuck Ragan returns to Dallas tonight with the fifth annual Revival Tour, and the co-frontman of Hot Water Music will share the stage with Dan Andriano from Alkaline Trio and Tom Gabel from Against Me!, as well as Mississippi songwriter Cory Branan. In the midst of remodeling the bathroom in his Northern California home, Ragan took time out to talk about the tour, his life as a musician, and what to expect with Hot Water Music's forthcoming record, Exister.
How did the tour originally come together?
Well, it was simple. It's an age-old concept. It's not anything original or groundbreaking. This is the original way families and communities used to share music together. What we wanted to do is just revive that entirely. And people have been doing it over the years, but coming from the scene I've been touring in for the past 17 or 18 years, there hasn't been much of it at all.
I started focusing more on my solo stuff after Hot Water went on a hiatus. The majority of the tours and gigs I was doing, by the end of it, I'd always end up with my buddies. We'd be together playing songs together. And that was the best part of the tour. It was the best part of the time, you know?
So the idea was, "Well, why can't we just coordinate it a little more, organize this and do an entire tour with this in mind?" Not to mention, one of the strongest elements on the tour is the camaraderie that makes up the event. The reason why we have that camaraderie is because there isn't any ego involved. All the hierarchy is just kind of cut down. It's important to us. We tell folks, "If you're coming down to see The Revival Tour, you're gonna want to come early, otherwise you're gonna miss something." We start this tour together, everybody. We do that for a few reasons. One of them is to let people know that no one here is above anybody else. These are all the folks you came down to see, and let's get this kicked off right!
This is the fifth year we've been doing The Revival Tour. A very little part of it is somewhat scripted in the sense that we're gonna do this song and that song in the beginning, we may do this one and that one in the end, but everything else in between, there ain't no telling what's gonna happen. That's what keeps it fresh and alive, and just real. It translates to the audiences. It definitely ties it all together with the communities. It's you folks that are inviting us into your homes. We're gonna come and give all that we got.
When we talked last year about your first show experiences, you talked about seeing country and bluegrass festivals as a kid. Was this the kind of camaraderie at those shows?
Oh yeah! Sure 'nuff. This way is the old way of sharing music. Definitely seeing bluegrass festivals, things were real spontaneous and people come and go off the stage. That is a beautiful way to share music. You never know what's gonna happen. I can look back on all my years growing up -- my mom has been an entertainer her whole life, growing up in an old Southern Baptist household, and going to a lot of the old gospel retreats, hearing all the trios, quartets and quintets. There was a lot of that same kind of spirit, within that style of sharing music. That camaraderie I've definitely seen from everywhere, from growing up in church to going to punk rock shows at The Hardback. To me, in one way or the other, it's all the same thing. But actually organizing this with my life and my friends, it's a completely different animal. I can honestly say it has, as cliché as it is now, it has completely revitalized my faith in music. Playing music and writing music, it's a challenge for me, like I've never been challenged before.
On The Revival Tour, we don't sing on each other's song; we play on each other's songs. For each artist that's on the tour, you'll learn anywhere from three to five, six, seven songs. If there's 12 to 20 artists on the tour, that's a lot of songs to learn in a month. It's extremely challenging, but in a great way.
Dan from Alkaline Trio is on this tour, and the Trio and Hot Water Music covered a couple of songs on a Jade Tree split EP years ago. Any chance that could happen live on this tour?
Maybe! Yeah, possibly. On the last Revival Tour, over in the U.K., we did "Bleeder" a couple times. That was a lot of fun. We got a ton of songs. If somebody hollers it loud enough, I'm sure we can figure out.
How do you juggle your solo tours with Hot Water tours?
Well, I haven't really done any Hot Water tours. I mean, we did a short one a while ago in Europe, and we've been doing mostly one-offs, little weekends here and there. It's just getting ready to start to get pretty tough here. Hell, I've made my own bed. I kinda asked for it. I'm doing my best to find the balance between all of it because Revival Tour and my music have been my top priority this whole time. I'm trying to stay responsible to keep that rolling because we've invested everything. All of our time, all of our energy, all of our money, and we've had a lot of our friends help out along the way. And we want to keep it going. At the same time, the Hot Water boys are fired up. We just made the best record that we've ever, ever made. It was incredible.
You're making me want to hear this!
I can't wait for you to hear it! To me, it's everything that Hot Water has ever been all about. So it's kind of one of those things where we're definitely gonna get out and do some touring and do some justice with it and bring it to the world. But it is a fine line, juggling home life and family life. Living on the road, out of a bag, is far from easy. It's not that all conducive to family life. It's the path that we choose. Years ago, I had no idea this would turn into a career. I've just been playing music that I believe in and just trying to treat people the way I wanted to be treated. A lot of wonderful things have happened, but you do make sacrifices along the way. Unfortunately, some of those sacrifices, I'm not through with yet.
A question I've always wanted to ask you: How do your parents feel about how much you've done in music?
I don't know, buddy. I think they're proud of me. I honestly I don't think they have an idea what's going on. My dad's never seen me play before. My mom's seen me play probably about 15 years ago. I don't blame them for that at all. I don't have any harsh feelings. They come from a different age and a different way of living. I respect them completely, and I couldn't ask for a better pair of parents. I love them to death. But, I don't know, you'll have to ask them sometime. They're definitely not up on the social media sites, so to speak.
When I wrote about Hot Water a few years ago, I thought, "This is going to be the only time I'm going to describe somebody as the son of a pro golfer and a Christian ventriloquist."
Yeah, that's true.
My parents have never seen me play live, aside from one night in high school where my dad filmed me. They remember hearing me play the drums in my room. They've let me do my thing, but it's not really their bag.
We battled it for years. They didn't want me to do anything with music. I played a lot of sports and I excelled in sports. I grew up skateboarding. I loved to play baseball, soccer, hockey, just kind of bounced around. You know, I'd always get tired of it and I would drop it, but I would always come back to skateboarding. Until finally, I didn't want to mess with sports at all. I just wanted to skate all the time. For years, I begged for an electric guitar. They finally broke down and bought me the little set-up where you get your amp, your chord book, your guitar strap and your electric guitar. I loved it. I brought it home and I didn't realize you had to press down on the frets to make a note or a chord. At the time, I just wanted to plug it in and sound like what I was into, like The Sex Pistols, GBH, The Germs. I took it home and turned all the knobs all the way up and just started banging on the thing. They let me go for a little bit until my dad finally came in, the door crashed open. And he picked it all up, and I never saw it again.
Man, I hated him for it. I went to school, I came home and there was an acoustic guitar leaning up against my bed. So, they were supportive, but they definitely had their own mind for how they were gonna be.
Was it much longer after that where your grandfather taught you how to play?
Well, he didn't teach me, but he was the one who inspired me. He was the reason I kept going. My grandparents lived in Daytona Beach. My brother and I used to stay with them. One time I brought my guitar, and I had no idea my granddad used to play. At one point, he said, "Hey boy, hand me that." I handed him the guitar. At the time, he was in his early 90s. He died around '98. He was really something else. He lived an extraordinary life. He started fingering chords and I was blown away. He was so old and brittle, but you could tell where he was going. That very same day, he asked me, "Boy you love playing that thing?" I said, "Yeah, granddad. I love it." He knew my parents weren't for it at all. And he told me, "You're a fool if ever put it down." It stuck with me. And he told me, "Never let anybody tell you different. Not your mom. Not your dad. Nobody." For me, at that age, I rebelled against my parents. I listened to them, but I rebelled.
When you told me that story a few years ago, it moved me. It was a reminder to stick to what I'm doing, regardless of whether or not I'm making any money from it. Be it writing, drumming, or playing guitar. I've realized this: When you're out of school, you're not pressured to be creative. When you're in school, you have to be creative for something like a book report or a presentation. When you get out and you're not forced to be creative, people think playing in a band or writing should be done for monetary purposes. So I keep coming back to your grandfather's quote. If you love it, don't give up on it.
Yeah, you can't. I know there's a lot of other things I could have been doing. I could have had a hockey scholarship. Or, at another point, I thought I was going to be a baseball player. Or follow in my dad's footsteps and play golf. I mean, there's a bunch of stuff I thought I was going to do, but I know the way I feel about music. No matter what I else I could have excelled in or made much money in doing this, that, or the other, if I didn't follow through with a labor of love, even though I was living hand-to-mouth for years, I would have definitely had something missing.
The last time I saw you play was at a South by Southwest day party. I was standing next to George and Chris from Hot Water and a few other people. You played on a patio and all these people were talking while you were playing, but you kept playing passionately.
That just comes with the territory. That's the nature of the beast.